Thursday, April 24, 2014

Grid Magazine Article on Horticulture Educator Doris Stahl

Avant Gardener: Horticulture educator has been a longtime champion for urban gardeners

Doris Stahl, here at the Horticulture Center at the Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, built hundreds of urban gardens around the city. Photo by Dan Murphy.After Doris Stahl’s two sons had moved out of the house in 1985, she was looking for a change. As a professionally trained fine artist and educator, she taught art sporadically at community centers and summer park programs while raising her two sons. But now that they were grown, Stahl wanted something more full-time. An avid home gardener, Stahl was drawn to accept a position as a horticulture educator with Penn State Extension. Little did she know the change she’d instill by bringing the Master Gardener Program to Philadelphia and building hundreds of urban gardens during her 26-year tenure.
The Master Gardener Program, which was established in Seattle in 1972 to meet the demands for urban horticulture and education, provides extensive training to volunteers who then go on to serve their communities through beautification projects, educational workshops, community garden maintenance, and providing gardening advice and education. Penn State adopted the Master Gardener Program in 1982, and implemented it in Pennsylvania counties where farming was already prevalent. But when Stahl came on board three years later, the Master Gardeners were nonexistent in Philadelphia, a city blighted by 33,000 vacant lots and minimal green space. 
Stahl designed a curriculum that aimed to wean people off food stamps by learning to garden on vacant lots. Loretta DeMarco, a Master Gardener who has worked with Stahl through the years, applauds Stahl for her dedication to bring the Master Gardener Program to Philadelphia.
“She grew it from a small group to the amazingly successful program it is today,” DeMarco says. “Doris is our mother.”
The curriculum’s “You are what you eat” segment teaches the power of nutrition to combat hunger. “The right plant for the right place” provides instruction to gain a job in groundskeeping and landscaping. “We were there to say, ‘Let us show you a better way; let us empower you to help your community,’ ” Stahl says. She worked with high school dropouts, recovering drug addicts, convicted criminals and struggling immigrants to help them gain new perspectives on their communities and themselves through gardening.
“It’s been such an experience to watch and be a part of a person’s transformation,” she says. “To see someone come from a place of struggle to the realization that, ‘Hey, there may be something more for me.’ I’ve worked with some amazing people who have done wonderful things for their neighborhoods.” Through her work, Stahl has helped establish more than 1,500 community gardens in Philadelphia. 
The Overbrook Environmental Education Center in West Philadelphia is just one location where Stahl’s horticultural mark has been made. She helped design and establish their environmental program by playing a part in creating a butterfly and urban garden, greenhouse and high tunnel, and improving the center’s stormwater management. Although Stahl retired from the Penn State Extension in 2011, she continues to volunteer at Overbrook, and her past three years are marked by a complete transformation in the center’s garden design and efficiency. Jerome Shabazz, the founder and executive director of Overbrook, has high praise for Stahl: “When I think of someone who is extraordinary, I think of someone who goes beyond their self-interest to the benefit of others. That’s Doris.”
In a time when the urban garden is seeing a rise in popular culture, Stahl prides herself in being an “old-timer.” “There are not too many of us around who have been doing this from the very beginning,” she says. “People don’t realize that urban gardening has a long tradition. We were avant-garde back then. But it’s great to see this change, this young interest in urban gardening, because the reality is that the need is still there.” 
story by Emily Brooks
Grid magazine May 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rodale Institute Trip and soil biology

Jane Takahashi

Fourteen Master Gardeners set out on Thursday, April 10, for advance training credits in a soil biology class at the Rodale Institute  We met at Anna Herman’s house around 11:30 and arrived at the institute around 1:00.  Our three hour class, instructed by Dr. Gladis Zinati, consisted of learning about the four major players of soil biology: bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes.  

Not only did she help us identify them in pictures, but gave us the opportunity to see them live under microscopes. Learning to take samples from soil or compost, using the microscope to look for specific microbes, and learning to count them was interesting and something we Master Gardener's could use in the field. It was a lot of fun observing the tiny microorganisms and hearing classmates yelling out, “I found a nematode that’s moving!” The class was a ton of fun. I found myself really enjoying the view under that scope, something totally different than what I’m used to.  

After the class we walked around and visited some of Rodale’s 305 acre farm, cute piglets bathing in their mud pit, oxen, goats and of course their fields.  None of this, I have to remember, could be possible without all those small organisms that we often do not see.   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Milk bottle cloches to extend your growing season

Sandy Grimwade

A great way to give your tomatoes, peppers and other warm-weather crops a head start in the garden is to use a cloche or hot cap. This allows you to set out your plants a couple of weeks earlier than usual.
The guideline for setting out tomatoes is usually the last frost date, but this becomes earlier and earlier as the climate warms, and is affected by whether you live in a city, which creates a heat-island effect, or in the suburbs. Many other factors like the slope of your land and proximity of walls, buildings and trees can also affect your micro-climate.

The date normally quoted for setting out tomatoes and peppers in Philadelphia is usually around May 1 and in the suburbs May 15. Using a cloche can take some of the guesswork and uncertainty out of the planting-out date and allow setting out a couple of weeks early.

I use recycled one gallon or half-gallon plastic milk bottles with the bottom cut off. Rinse out the bottle, then (carefully) cut off the base of the bottle with a bread knife or a pair of scissors, and you are good to go. Set the bottle over the new transplant with the edge buried about 1 inch deep. If you just sit the bottle on the ground, it is liable to blow away in a strong wind. The warmth of the sun heats up the soil inside the bottle during the day. It also keeps the humidity high, which decreases transplant shock. At night, the temperature inside the bottle stays several degrees higher than the surrounding air, and the plant is protected from wind. I usually leave the tops off the bottles to avoid the trapped air becoming too humid, but if a late frost or cold and windy night is forecast it is quick and easy to put the tops on the bottles, and take them off the next morning. Once we get into late May or early June and your plants are growing rapidly it is time to take off the milk bottle cloches. They can be used for two or three seasons, but eventually the plastic becomes brittle and cracks. That is why I start collecting my empty milk bottles about the same time as I plant my seeds indoors.

A further advantage of the milk bottle cloche is protection from cutworms and other insects. I often leave my cloches on my eggplants until they are too big to fit, to avoid flea beetle and other insect damage.

Other uses for cloches in the garden include covering directly sown seed to encourage faster germination, and covering greens in the fall to extend the harvest. 

Plant Sale and Garden Day May 4, 2014

If you are in the Philadelphia Area SAVE THE DATE for the upcoming Plant Sale and Garden Day.

Sunday May 4, 2014   11 to 2:30
Fairmount Horticultural Center   

Invite a friend and come and browse our selections of plants for your garden or containers, walk through the demonstration gardens, volunteer to help plant the second phase of the Orchard Project, ask Master Gardeners about problems you may be having or information you may need, see a demonstration on making troughs, and much more.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Philly Farm and Food Fest

Come and join the fun by learning about farming and gardening, buying local, and tasting food grown by some of these purveyors. Oysters, vegetables, jams and cheeses. What more could you ask for. The Master Gardeners will be there with information and to answer questions about our program or your gardening needs.

Philly Farm & Food Fest website:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Extension Hotline for your gardening questions

The Master Gardeners Hotline is open and waiting for you to

Any gardening question from soil testing, insect control, the type of plant to buy for your garden, pruning and more. So check us out on our website for more information on the HOTLINE. Each county in Pennsylvania and any State Extension across the country has this type of hotline information for it's gardeners. Take advantage of the expertise of your local EXTENSION Master Gardeners.